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Languages: Free Wi-Fi on Niue as a Catalyst

Rising Voices note: This begins a series of short introductory posts about some of the individuals and organizations that will take part in the online dialogue “Using Citizen Media Tools to Promote Under-Represented Languages” that we are co-hosting in collaboration with New Tactics and Indigenous Tweets on November 16-22.

Some might say that the island of Niue is the perfect place to get away from the constant bombardment of emails and information overload. Located 2,400 kilometers from New Zealand, the international airport greets a flight from Auckland only once a week. However, for the approximately 1,500 residents of Niue, being connected to the internet is not only important for its tourist industry, but it provides a valuable opportunity to encourage the use of the Niuean language online.

Thanks to an initiative launched by the national government and the IUSN Foundation, all residents and visitors can enjoy wi-fi free-of-charge throughout the island after paying a one-time connection fee. The organization Internet Niue has been given the task of maintaining the system and providing ongoing support to its users. While the operating costs for the satellite connection are not insignificant, the country is able to bring in needed revenue through the sale of the .nu domain address.

Now that country is connected to the rest of the world, there are some people who see it as an opportunity to save the language. Most Niueans live abroad, with many moving to New Zealand where their children adopt English as their first language and opportunities to use their native tongue continue to diminish. Estimates place the number of Niue speakers at 25,000 worldwide, with only 1,200 that live year-round on the island. There are some websites that provide lessons for those wanting to learn the language, and there has even been a campaign to create a Nieuan-version of Wikipedia, but interaction through web 2.0 tools can be an alternative way of connecting with other Niue speakers.

Emani and TaniRose Fakaotimanava-Lui. Photo used with permission.

The manager of Internet Niue, Emani Fakaotimanava-Lui, who recently received the Asia Information Society Innovation Fund award at the Internet Governance Forum held in Nairobi in September 2011 for his work on the island, is one individual that believes that much more can be done to take advantage of the connectivity on the island. While most residents also speak English fluently, Emani feels that those that move abroad do not need to “lose their connection with their mother tongue”. In addition to promoting translation projects, Emani is also hoping to promote blogging and tweeting initiatives in the Niue language:

The Niue language – Vagahau Niue – will survive only if it is in everyday use. And this means on the internet.

Public-service sign in the Niuean language. Photo by varsovia103 and used under (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Learn more about Emani's work and plans for the promotion of the Niuean language at the online dialogue “Using Citizen Media Tools to Promote Under-Represented Languages” to take place on November 16-22. Follow Intenet Niue on Twitter: (@InternetNiue).

Thumbnail photo of a hiapo by Internet Niue and used with permission.

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